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Inequality and philanthropy: Author of ‘The Givers’ explains how they can fuel each other

American philanthropy has been undergoing a major resurgence in the last few decades, leading some to dub this a new ‘golden age’ for giving.

At the same time, wealth concentration and inequality, the gap between rich and poor, has been on the increase. David Callahan, author of The Givers: Wealth, Power and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, says we all need to recognize that these two trends go together – and that this feedback loop needs some tweaking if we are to protect and preserve our democracy.

For this week’s Humanosphere podcast, executive editor Tom Paulson talks with Callahan, also editor and founder of the online publication Inside Philanthropy, about the good, bad and ugly of ‘charitable’ giving.

The first thing Callahan wants people to understand is that a lot of philanthropic giving is hardly charitable but, instead, often a powerful and somewhat disguised method of exerting political influence, shifting public opinion or directly promoting a personal agenda by a rich ‘super-citizen.’ In his new book, Callahan provides examples of this across the political spectrum, left and right, and raises important questions about the potential threat even well-meaning billionaire philanthropists may pose for our democracy.

It’s a fascinating discussion of an increasingly powerful player in our society that gets a lot of celebratory media coverage but not much in-depth critical scrutiny. So listen in and learn!

As usual, before we get into the main interview for the podcast, Paulson and I review some of the week’s news highlights in the Humanosphere, starting with some good news from the global health arena. As our own Lisa Nikolau and others elsewhere reported, the World Health Organization this week announced progress made against a class of mostly parasitic diseases called Neglected Tropical Diseases (or NTDs).

The good news on the fight against NTDs was compared to Tom Murphy’s report on setbacks in the campaign to eradicate polio due to security problems in the three countries where this infectious disease remains endemic, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

We also noted another potentially positive story largely prompted by a tragedy, the massive and growing threat of famine in South Sudan, Nigeria and other regions. What’s positive amid the tragedy is that two US senators, one a Republican the other a Democrat, are pushing to make the US government’s food aid system less self-serving so we can save more lives. We’re not holding our breath, but it’s a good sign.

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About Author

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan is Humanosphere's social media manager and podcast producer. A University of Washington graduate in journalism and dance, Imana's interests include underrepresented communities, the intersection between politics and culture, global-local issues and the arts. She can be reached at @imanafg on Twitter or